Saarc meet: Rajnath Singh’s visit to Pakistan should be treated as a routine affair

There will be problems and disappointment, if Rajnath Singh expects any positive outcomes from talks with Pakistani leaders and officials

Prakash Nanda August 01, 2016 13:22:47 IST
Saarc meet: Rajnath Singh’s visit to Pakistan should be treated as a routine affair

Having covered four South Asian Association Regional Cooperation (Saarc) summits as a journalist, let me make it clear that Saarc meetings usually do not make news for their deliberations as a regional organisation, but for the side-events when the leaders meet (or do not meet) bilaterally. And this has been all the more so when Indian and Pakistani leaders meet or do not meet on the sidelines of the Saarc meetings.

No wonder why news headlines this morning are not on what theme Home Minister Rajnath Singh will highlight on in the 7th meeting of Saarc Ministers of Interior/Home Islamabad on 4 August, 2016 in Islamabad, but on whether or not he will raise terrorism-related issues with Pakistani counterpart Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan.

Saarc meet Rajnath Singhs visit to Pakistan should be treated as a routine affair

File photo of Rajnath Singh. AFP

In fact, speculations are on whether he will talk to Chaudhary one one-to-one basis at all in the wake of the emphatic assertion of External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj the other day that “what is happening in Jammu and Kashmir today is because of the weapons and terrorism exported by Pakistan.” In a way, Rajnath Singh himself had made the same point while intervening in Parliament during discussions on Kashmir.

Although nearly 31 year-old, the Saarc has not realised its potentials primarily because two of its most powerful members – India and Pakistan – have been at loggerheads. Take, for instance, the main purpose for which the Indian Home Minister will be heading to Islamabad next week. He is supposed to discuss with his Saarc counterparts on issues such as combating terrorism; preventing trafficking in women and children for prostitution; and mutual assistance in criminal matters, including the trade of narcotics/drugs. The Saarc has farmed “conventions” on all these issues, but they are hardly implemented. In fact, on terrorism, an “Additional Protocol” came into force to further strengthen “Saarc Regional Convention on Suppression of Terrorism” (1988).

But despite these agreements, the sad reality is that the Saarc as a region is one of the most terrorism-prone areas of the world. And what is more shocking is that here, Pakistan, one of its key members, uses terrorism as an instrument of its foreign policy, particularly against two other members, India and Afghanistan.

This being the case, nothing concrete is likely to emerge from the Islamabad-meeting that Rajnath Singh is going to attend. In fact, this is the second Saarc meeting of the home ministers that Singh will be attending; he had attended the last one, the sixth in the series, at Kathmandu in September 2014. That such meetings are at best photo opportunities and non-serious affairs is further evident from the fact that though supposed to be an annual feature (as decided during the Saarc summit in 2005 at Dhaka), so far only six have been held. The one at Islamabad is going to be the seventh one, though it should have been the 11th in the series, if there was a genuine commitment to regional cooperation within the Saarc framework.

However, as I have said, Saarc meetings may have failed as regional meetings, but they have provided opportunities on the sidelines for important bilateral deliberations among the visiting leaders. Against this background, will Rajnath Singh really speak to the Pakistani leaders during his sojourn to that country? There are conflicting reports to that effect. But if he speaks at all, what will he speak? Let me demystify some vital aspects of Indo-Pak relations.

First, it is totally meaningless for India to talk to any civilian leader of Pakistan, be he the President or Prime Minister (let alone a Home Minister). Because, they do not have any say in the policy towards India. The ultimate decision-maker in Pakistan as far as India is concerned happens to be the Army Chief, who is advised by the notorious ISI, an important component of the Pakistani Army. Therefore, if any breakthrough in the India-Pakistani impasse is to be made, New Delhi should insist that the Pakistani Army Chief Raheel Sharif or his nominees should be in the Pakistani delegation for negotiations. It so happens that the Army, for its vast unaccounted power in Pakistan, needs an “eternal enemy” in India to justify all its actions.

Therefore, if at all there will be any progress on the front of India-Pakistan relations, that is possible if the Pakistani Army remains the primary negotiator. It may be politically incorrect to say so but the fact remains India lost a great chance to progress on the Kashmir issue when Pakistan was under the rule of General Pervez Musharraf because at that time he had the power to deliver results.

The hard reality is that Nawaz Sharif and his ministers and advisers are simply helpless in pursuing any meaningful negotiations with India. Let us not forget that Pakistan is essentially an “army with a country”. It is the army that decides the country’s policy towards India. There are three lakshman rekhas (limiting lines) that the army has drawn for the civilian Prime Ministers and Presidents. One, they would not interfere in any manner in the organizational and administrative work of the armed forces. Two, they would abide by the advice of the Army Chief on matters of foreign and defence policies. Three, they would not interfere with the army-controlled nuclear weaponisation and missile programmes.

Secondly, unlike China, which is and can be India’s rival and partner simultaneously, Pakistan will always behave as India’s enemy. Come what may, it will continue to promote jihad in Kashmir and other parts of India, something it has been doing interminably since 1980s. It will never provide any evidences that will link its citizens with horrible terror attacks on Mumbai in 2008. Any number of hard evidences of LeT/ISI involvement that India provides to Islamabad will never impress the Pakistani establishment. It will always come out with the answer that these evidences are not enough to merit attention of the Pakistani courts, which, alone, are competent to deal with the Pakistanis accused in Mumbai attacks. It is another matter that the same Pakistan has handed over many of its terrorist-nationals to the United States for prosecution without waiting judicial clearance. Similarly, Pakistan will continue to expand its military pressure/intervention points in India by strengthening its terror networks all over South Asia. Terrorism will remain Pakistan’s important instrument of foreign policy against India.

Thirdly, it is a huge myth that Pakistan will shed its hostility to India if Kashmir issue is resolved on Islamabad’s terms. Even if Kashmir joins Pakistan, Islamabad will find out another issue to trouble India. Because, Pakistan’s antipathy towards India is deep-rooted. In fact, Pakistan’s very existence as an entity depends on hostility towards India. Take India away and Pakistan’s justification as a separate country in the map of the world will hold no water. All told, India was partitioned in 1947 to create a homeland for Muslims under the name of Pakistan. But it so happened that more Muslims stayed back in India than those who joined Pakistan. And this explains why the Pakistan army promotes fundamentalist mullahs in the country and uses them in tirades against India trough terrorist organisations like the LeT. This fundamentalist Wahabi Islam negates the Sufi tradition that promoted Hindu-Muslim amity and coexistence in the subcontinent for centuries. So much so that many Pakistanis now suffer from some identity crisis – they are not sure whether they should retain their age-old cultural roots (that are obviously influenced by Hinduism) or develop totally new “Arab identities”.

Oblivious of India’s size, population and potentials, Pakistan’s obsession right since its inception has been seeking “parity with India”. And how to seek parity? One has to do everything that India does. If India has nuclear weapons and missiles, Pakistan must have them even if in the process, as late Z Bhutto said, “The Pakistanis have to eat grass (to survive).” The other thing to do is to work towards the disintegration of India so that India comes down to the size of Pakistan. This policy, as Bhutto said, was “essential for Pakistan’s national survival and unity.” Therefore, he further elaborated, Pakistan’s policies against India should be closely coordinated with China.

Fourthly, and this is a corollary of the above point, erosion of Indian power, dismemberment of its territories and consolidation of an anti-India geo-strategic nexus are Pakistan’s predominant foreign policy goals. Pakistan’s war against India is no longer confined to Kashmir. Pakistan wants to balkanize India by cutting off the country’s northern, eastern (North-East) and southern (Kerala) wings. In fact, Mushahid Hussain, once a former information minister under Sharif, has argued that Pakistan should work towards the division of India into three or four independent countries. Simultaneously, Pakistan’s ISI machinery will concentrate on widening the Hindu-Muslim divide, spreading hatred and destroying India’s inherent ethos of communal harmony.

Even otherwise, if one goes by the history books written for students in Pakistan, the intensity of the anti-India venom and the ferocity with which it is being injected into young minds are mind-blowing. This great historic discovery is taught: Previously, India was part of Pakistan. In these books, Muhammad-bin-Qasim, the first Muslim conqueror of the Hindu-dominated Sindh province in the 8th century, is declared the first Pakistani citizen. In Social Studies for Class VI (Sindh Textbook Board, 1997), the story of the Arabs’ arrival in Sindh is counted as the first moment of Pakistan, with the glorious ascendancy of Islam. It is interesting to note the flight of imagination of this author: “During the 11th century the Ghaznavid Empire comprised what is now Pakistan and Afghanistan. During the 12th century, the Ghaznavids lost Afghanistan, and their rule came to be confined to Pakistan…By the 13th century, Pakistan had spread to include the whole of Northern India and Bengal…Under the Khiljis Pakistan moved further southward to include a greater part of Central India and the Deccan… Many Mongols accepted Islam. As such Pakistan remained safe for Islam… During the 16th century, ‘Hindustan’ disappeared and was completely absorbed in ‘Pakistan’…Although Pakistan was created in August 1947, yet except for its name, the present-day Pakistan has existed, as a more or less single entity, for centuries.”

The moral of the story is obvious. Unless the typical mindset of the Pakistanis is changed, India will remain their eternal enemy. This is not to suggest that Rajnath Singh should not talk to Chaudhary at all. Talks, per se, are important for three reasons. One, it will strengthen the peace-constituency in Pakistan, howsoever small and inconsequential it may be at the moment. Two, it will help in neutralizing the pro-Pakistan elements in the Western countries, particularly the United States, Pakistan’s largest source of economic aid and military assistance. Three, it will give us time and space to augment our economic and military power to not only face any eventual hot war from Pakistan but also develop the capacity to manage the situation following the disintegration of Pakistan because of its inherent contradictions, which is a distinct possibility.

However, there will be problems and disappointment, if Singh expects any positive outcomes from talks with Pakistani leaders and officials. In my considered view, such talks must be considered a routine matter, nothing more. There is absolutely no need to spend much time and energy with Pakistan – just ignore it and concentrate on other neighbours and geostrategic opportunities in the broad Indo-Pacific region

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